Tag: Literacy Assessment

How to Rock the Literacy 10 Assessment

Wokandapix / Pixabay

I just finished a weekend of marking the brand new Literacy 10 Assessment–brought to you by the Ministry of Education in British Columbia.

As I read through hundreds and hundreds of student compositions, I wanted to talk to the students that wrote them, or their teachers and tell them if only they did this or that little thing, they’d get a far better score.  There are some pretty simple ways you can get better results on this assessment.

Why do well?

But before I get into how to do well, perhaps we’d better talk about why.  This is not one of those “high stakes exams” we hear about. One of those that determine if you get into university or how much funding your school gets. This doesn’t have that kind of baggage–that’s a good thing.  The response of the narrow minded is “then it doesn’t matter.”  This is absolutely correct if having an accurate assessment of one’s reading, writing and thinking does not matter.

If students do their best on this assessment, the results will provide them with some valuable information about what they are good at and what they can work on over the next few years to improve important competencies.  Competencies that, once developed, will certainly be personally relevant.  This is not an English test, it is about literacy–the skills it assesses transcend English class, and reach beyond high school graduation.

The Structure of the Literacy 10 Assessment

Part A

Students are given a selection of texts.  These include graphs and diagrams as well as as various passages including narrative and expository.  Students will answer a variety of questions on these texts–these are not typical multiple choice, but a variety of forms that break the mold of traditional assessments.

There are two writing tasks in Part A.  A Graphic Organizer and a Critical Response.

This section is called “What They Say” in that students write about what other people say about a topic.

Part B

This section is called “What I Say” because here students are invited to enter into the conversation.  Students can chose between Literacy for Information and Literacy for Expression.  Each of these have readings and a prompt for an essay.

How to do well.

Tip #1 — Understand the task.

There are three writing tasks on this assessment.  The Graphic Organizer, a Critical Response and Writing for Information/Expression.  The expectations for each task are very different, so students must understand which task they working on.

  1. Graphic Organizer — Here the student is expected to organize ideas found in texts.  They will organize ideas one a graphic organizer–a table, a pyramid,  a Venn Diagram, etc.  Here they show an understanding of cause/effect, coordinate and subordinate ideas, explanation/example, etc.  Students are asked to make assertions and briefly explain.
  2. Critical Response — This section is nicknamed “What They Say.” This is a multi-paragraph response.  For clarity’s sake, let’s call it an essay.  Students must have more than 1 paragraph.  Technically 2 is fine, but I suggest a minimum of 3.  Write an intro that ends with a thesis statement–be explicit.  A minimum of a one-paragraph body that starts with a topic sentence.  And a conclusion.  Most students should try for two or three body paragraphs.  Again, this is “What They Say”;  The instructions say, “With reference to one or more of the texts.”  Students should show they’ve read the texts.  This is important: students don’t offer their thoughts or ideas here–their task in this section is to clearly communicate what others are saying.  Students should write about the texts–not about what they think or know.   This is not a personal response, that comes later.
  3. Literacy for Information or Literacy for Expression — This section is nicknamed, “What I Say,” and it offers students more freedom in what they say and how they say it–they may write an essay, or a story, or even a poem.  In this section, students are given a prompt to which they respond in writing.  Readings accompany the prompt.  Students may use these as inspiration for their own writing, but there is no requirement that students refer to them.   It is important that students answer the prompt and not allow the readings to pull you off of this task.  Tell students to dare to be different–write a story, use dialogue (but know how to format it).  Show their insight and creativity from the first line!

Tip #2 — Be Specific

For all of these tasks, be specific, not general.  Clear, not vague.  Make sure the support is relevant and specific.  Back up all of your assertions with specific evidence or examples.

Tip #3 — Give Students a Word Count

For some reason, the creators of the assessment are very reluctant to give students a word count.  I don’t know what the reason is.  Anyone who has taught grade 10 students knows that most will write a one-sentence answer to any question unless specifically told to write more.  Then most a quite willing to comply.  This will also the case on the Literacy 10 Assessment–if they write a 50-word response to any of the essays, they will do poorly, and there is no need for this.

For the Graphic Organizer, don’t over-write.  The exception is the Graphic organizer.  Two sentences per box will be fine.  A quote doesn’t hurt, but it is not necessary.

For the essays tell students that they should write a minimum of 300 words.  A 600 word response is completely appropriate.

Tip #3 — Exceed Minimums

When then instructions say, “With reference to one or more of the texts,” refer to at least two.  When the instructions say multi-paragraph, write at least 3.  Exceed minimums, but don’t get carried away–don’t refer to all the texts multiple times and don’t write a seven paragraph essay.  Good writers know when their point has been made and don’t need to compensate with volume.

Tip #4 — Read for Main Ideas

Most of the tasks in the assessment revolve around picking up on the main ideas for each text.  Students should practice this in their classes, and they should focus on this as they read the passages on the assessment.

Tip #5 — Capitals and Periods

I’ve marked provincial exams for more than two decades, and have always been baffled as to why so many students consider the caps and periods optional, as if they were some sort of stylistic device that only pretentious professionals employed.

If you know what a sentence is.  Show that you know.

If you don’t know what a sentence is, toss a few periods and capitals into your writing. It can’t hurt.  At least the assessor would get the idea that you’re trying.

Tip #6 Refer to Texts by Name

And put this name in the proper format.

Tip #7 — Read It Over

Typos and spelling mistakes don’t leave a very good impression.  Ideally, every spelling and grammatical error that remains in each composition should only be the ones the student is not aware of.  If they know how to spell “environment” they should not allow “emviromint” remain uncorrected in their essay.

Tip #8 — Paragraphing

Reinforce the importance of paragraphing to your students.  It shows the students understanding of structuring writing, and it makes their writing easier to understand.

So, topic sentences, specific evidence with explanations, and transitions will really boost those marks.  It’s fine if students don’t write in paragraphs, but only if they legitimately don’t understand paragraphing.  That’s one of the things we are assessing.

Tip #9 — Answer the questions even if it’s not relevant to you.

Sometimes students will be asked to give a personal opinion or reflection to an issue or an idea.  They need to put some effort into this, even if they honestly don’t have an opinion, reaction or to describe something they learned or how their opinion has shifted.  They should explain why they don’t have an opinion, or talk about an opinion that a student might have.  A specific response in these cases can bump students up a mark.

Synthesis essay

In British Columbia there is an exam in English 12.  It’s on the way out, and it will be replaced with a Literacy Assessment.  Both of these assessments have a major essay where students are expected to synthesize the contents of two or more pieces of writing while responding to a specific prompt.

Here are 8 tips to help you write your best essay.

1. Understand the texts

One of the things this assessment is trying to determine is the degree to which you understand what you read.  Misunderstanding one of the texts is not good, so here are a few suggestions to help you understand the texts.

  1. Thoughtfully answer the multiple choice questions.  One or more of these will often indicate the points at which a text might be misunderstood.  If you think these questions over carefully, you may be turned toward the correct interpretation.
  2. Read the texts more than once.  Slower readers might not be able to give both texts a second thorough reading, but give each a quick re-read to see if you come up with better insights the second time.  This is particularly important for the poem, as poetry is generally denser than prose.

2. Address the prompt

If you don’t address the prompt, you get a zero.  So, address it, and don’t be subtle about it either; be really clear you are doing what you are asked to do.

Most of the time, the prompt will ask you to compare and/or contrast some aspect of the two pieces: How are two things similar–themes, characters, etc.? Which shows more preparation, dedication, courage, etc.?  Sometimes you will be asked to discuss how a character or the author in one reading would respond to something in the other selection.

I strongly suggest you annotate the prompt–pause for a moment and highlight the key words in the prompt and make sure you clearly understand your task.

Do what the prompt asks.

Don’t do something else:

    • Don’t evaluate goals.
    • Don’t write about conflict.
    • Don’t write about need.
    • Don’t write about determination.
    • Don’t write about nature.
    • Don’t write about diction, literary devices, or imagery.
    • Don’t write about what you’d do.

Even though selections may nicely lend to one or more of the above, resist the temptation and limit your discussion to the prompt.

3. Introduction and Thesis

The introduction need not be long.  You want to set up your thesis statement and in doing so, name the selections and identify the authors.

Your thesis statement comes at the end of your introductory paragraph.  The thesis statement is key.  And it’s all about the prompt.  Your thesis statement is the answer to the question implied in the prompt.

Consider this prompt:

Discuss the qualities that Erik Weihenmayer in “Blindly He Goes…Up” and Uncle Jim in “Versabraille” share in facing their challenges.

The implied question is. What qualities do Erik Weihenmayer and Uncle Jim share in facing challenged?

Your thesis statement, then, will be something like this:

When facing challenges, both Erik Weihenmayer and Uncle Jim are courageous, resourceful, and motivated.

With a thesis statement like this, you have almost certainly avoided a zero, and are well on the way to achieving at least a  16/24 on this question.

A last note about your thesis statement: don’t over state your thesis.  If the prompt ask you to assess which selection shows more courage, don’t say that the one is courageous and one is a complete coward.  The thing to remember is that both sides are usually defensible.  Good readers and writers understand nuance.   You will most likely argue that while they both show a lot of courage, ______________ shows more because ______________ .

3. Body Paragraphs–BE SPECIFIC!

This essay must be multi-paragraph.  The instructions explain that this means “3 or more paragraphs.”  Although it all depends on your thesis, you should be thinking in terms of at least four paragraphs.

Your English teachers have probably talked about topic sentences for years.  Now is the time to use them.  The first sentence in each paragraph will deal with some aspect of your thesis statement.  Using the above example, your first body paragraph will be about how each, Erik Weihenmayer and Uncle Jim, exhibits courage; the second will be about the resourcefulness they share, and the third will explore the high degree of motivation we see in each.

Support for your assertions must be specific.  In what specific circumstances was Uncle Jim courageous?  How exactly do his actions indicate he is courageous?

If you know how to use “run-in” or integrated  quotations, do so.  If you don’t, pay attention to these lessons in class.

Your paragraphs need to be a balance between references to the text and an explanation as to how they support your analysis.  A lawyer will not just hold up an evidence bag containing a bloody knife with fingerprints.  She will also explain how this evidence points to the plaintiff’s guilt.  You too will need to provide evidence for your assertions, but you will also need to provide an explanation as to how this evidence supports your assertions.

4. Organization

There are two basic approaches to organizing your essay: block and point-by-point.



Paragraph discussing Erik W’s courage, resourcefulness, motivation

Paragraph discussing Uncle Jim’s courage, resourcefulness, motivation




Body paragraph discussing courage of Uncle Jim and Erik W.

Body paragraph discussing resourcefulness of Uncle Jim and Erik W.

Body paragraph discussing motivation of Uncle Jim and Erik W.


Sometimes the combination of the prompt and the literary selections lend themselves toward using block, other times toward point-by-point, but generally, average writers use the block and stronger writers use point-by-point.  Point-by-point can allow for a more sophisticated synthesis, but it should only be used by a writer that is capable of this level of synthesis.  After you read the prompt and the selections, make up your mind which you think would generate the best essay for you to write.

Make sure you use transitions between your paragraphs.

5. Synthesize!

The danger of the block organization is that you will write about both pieces, but fail to synthesize.  One solution to this issue is to have a good thesis statement–one that explicitly answers the prompt.  If you do this, at least one sentence in your essay is bringing the two passages into dialogue, so you’ve likely avoided the zero.

Synthesis in a point-by-point essay will happen automatically.

Most of the synthesis in the block approach occurs in the second body paragraph.  In your discussion of the second text, regularly refer back to your discussion of the first text in support your topic sentence/thesis statement.

6. Don’t do Summary

As you discuss each selection in the body of the essay, don’t spend too much time summarizing the plot, or retelling what the poem says, or rehashing the ideas in the article.  Your audience, the markers, know exactly what happens in each.

Your task is to answer the prompt/prove your thesis.  Use the text to complete this task.  By summarizing what occurs in the story, poem or article, you may accidentally also address the prompt, but this sort of incidental success will be far less effective than a focused discussion of your thesis.

7. Nuts and Bolts

  • The exam instructions give a 300-word minimum.   With a decent thesis statement and adequate explanation, your essay will be about 600 words.
  • For this exam, you will be reading a story, an article, and a poem.  Make sure you refer to them with the proper label.  Narrative, excerpt or informational text work as well when appropriately applied.  It is usually not appropriate to call any of these passages a novel.
  • Use the word, but use synonyms as well.  “The word” is the main word in the prompt.  Upper-level writers will use this term sparingly, replacing it with appropriate synonyms.
  • Know the difference between then and than – if you don’t know the difference, go with than.  Because this is usually a comparison essay, that will be the right one most of the time.

8. Don’t write like this

Control of language is a clear indicator of a good writer.  Here is a sample of student writing:

It is only through close examination that the revelation of qualities shared by the protagonists becomes apparent.  It is through examination of the two stories that the reader understands . . .

This writer has said nothing in these 30 words.

The best way to get a six is to be a good writer who has the ability to read between the lines for or above the lines of the text.  But regardless of how good a writer you are, these tips will help you earn the highest possible score on the English 12 provincial exam and the future literacy exam.

See also: How to Write a Great Composition


© 2024

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑